Columbia, South Carolina (CNN) - South Carolina Republicans elected a new party chairman Saturday who vowed to be President Barack Obama's "worst nightmare."
More than 1,000 Republicans tapped Chad Connelly, a businessman and chairman of the Newberry County Republican Party, to helm the party organization through the state's closely-watched presidential primary season.
Connelly survived two rounds of balloting to defeat Bill Connor, a former candidate for lieutenant governor, and Greenville attorney Stephen Brown.
"You guys just elected Barack Obama's and Dick Harpootlian's worst nightmare," Connelly told the audience after his win, naming the president and the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party as his foils.
Connelly immediately faces the challenge of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to run the presidential primary, tentatively scheduled for February. Because only Republicans are having a contested presidential primary in 2012, the task of running the election is expected to fall to the state party.
In a cost-cutting measure, Gov. Nikki Haley has come out against using state money to fund the primary. The South Carolina legislature is still debating whether to fund the contest, which might cost over $1 million.
"We don't even know how much" the party has to raise, Connelly told reporters after his win. He said he has transition meetings scheduled to "find out where we are" and noted that he has been asking state legislators to sign off on using state money for the primary.
Connelly said he has "an aggressive fundraising plan" in place and promised to run a "lean and mean" operation to keep overhead low.
He also vowed to protect South Carolina's cherished status as one of the first four presidential nominating states in the face of threats from other states - notably Florida - to move up their primary and caucus dates in violation of the calendar approved by the Republican National Committee.
"We are going to be the first-in-the-South primary," he said. "If we have to trick-or-treat for the first vote, then we will. We will be first in the South. There is no doubt about that."